RACS clients come from many diverse backgrounds and countries from around the world. Many don’t speak English and have experienced trauma. Some are in immigration detention and some are living in the community.
What they all have in common is that they all want to be safe.
When Abdul* was only three years old, his father was taken by the Taliban and was never heard from again.
Abdul’s remaining family tried to move from their home in Afghanistan to Pakistan, but the authorities would not allow them to live there lawfully and the children were not able to go to school. They were forced to live there undocumented while his mother struggled to support her five children. When she became seriously ill, 8 year old Abdul was forced to become the breadwinner.
Abdul and another young boy worked together at a market trying to sell fruit from a cart they bought from a marketplace. In 2012, Abdul and his friend became the targets of violence. They were caught in the violence against the Hazara people, when their Mosque was attacked during Muharram. The shootings surrounding Abdul’s house were becoming more frequent.
Abdul decided he had to leave. He made his way to Thailand and Malaysia before he was caught and detained for a number of months. Once released, he decided to keep moving through to Indonesia. He had heard that if you tell the authorities of your age, you are taken to a camp and not able to leave until turning 18. He found another Afghan family who let him pretend to be their son for his safety. He was able to then make his journey to Australia. Once arriving in Australia, Abdul’s boat was taken to Christmas Island and he was kept on a navy ship for a few days. At age 15, he entered Christmas Island detention centre, where he remained for approximately 18 months before moving to a mainland centre, and then to community detention.
Our role at RACS was to assist Abdul, advocating for him to not be transferred to Nauru. After that win, we then advocated for him to be released from detention, and be afforded the protection he deserves.
Now we are in the process of helping him apply for his visa to remain in Australia. He has dreams of becoming a Nurse and hopes to secure a scholarship to study at a regional university.
*Name has been changed to protect his identity.
Layla* a young girl the same age as Abdul*, was sent to Nauru when she arrived in Australia, but was returned to Australia for medical treatment with her mother. Layla’s mother became seriously mentally ill and needed to come to Australia for urgent psychiatric treatment following serious levels of self harm.
Our role at RACS is to advocate for Layla and her mother to remain in Australia, give voice to their vulnerabilities, appalling treatment and lack of medical care received on Nauru.
Layla asked that her mother be treated in Sydney as her uncle lives here. Layla’s Uncle Yousef* had managed to leave Syria and arrive in Australia by plane. He arrived in early 2012, applied for protection and consequently was granted a permanent protection visa. Despite the family all fleeing the same war, each faced very different treatment due to their mode of arrival.
Our role at RACS is to assist Yousef in applying for the family he left behind to join him here in Australia. He didn’t have the money at the time to send his family with Layla and her mother and so they waited, hoping Yousef would find another way.
What we learn at RACS every day is that for every Abdul, Layla and Yousef, there are hundreds of people still in detention, detained offshore and in the community, with thousands of family members they have had to leave behind.
*Names have been changed to protect their identities.
Maria* is a single mother who made the desperate journey to Australia by boat with her children in 2013.
Maria escaped severe violence, persecution and trauma in her home country to seek a safe life for her family. She spent years in Australia, waiting for the chance to apply for protection.
Meeting with her lawyers at RACS finally gave her the chance to tell her story. With RACS' assistance, she was finally able to apply for a protection visa.
Maria did not recieve any education in her country and is illiterate, so she was unable to read the letter informing her thatshe and her children had recieved a protection visa. When her youngest son returned home from school, he read it and gave his mother the incredible news.
"At first I couldn't believe it...my youngest son read me the letter and he was jumping up and down, and he couldn't believe it either. Then my daughter read the letter to me and she said the same thing...I felt really happy."
the best part about this news is that we will not have to return to the country where we faced unbearable trauma and violence," Maria said.
She explained that although the protection visa application process was very challenging, she has found strength in seeing her children safe and happy for the first time. In their home country, Maria's children could not attend school because it was too dangerous. Maria told her lawyers at RACS that since being here, her children have been enjoying going to school and have been coming home with smiles on their faces. She is relieved that they will be able to continue their education.
Now that Maria has her protection visa, she would also like to study so that she can learn to read and write. She thanked her lawyers at RACs for their hard work.
"I will never forget what you have done for us"
*Name has been changed to protect her identity.
Our role at RACS is to listen, discover, assist, advocate and serve some of the most vulnerable, yet courageous people in the world. For people seeking safety in Australia, RACS is the difference between staying and going.
(Images (c)2017 RACS/Renee Dixson)